Friday

19th Apr 2019

Turkey votes again, as EU seeks help on refugees

Turkish voters will head to the polls, again, on Sunday (1 November), as Europe seeks help from Ankara on stemming the flow of refugees.

The snap election was called just five months after the last one failed to produce an absolute majority for president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

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Recent polls indicate the 57 million voters haven’t changed their mind significantly since the last time around, on 7 June.

They also indicate the escalation of violence with the Kurds has not turned voters away from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which passed the 10 percent threshold in the summer to enter parliament.

In one survey, by MetroPoll, released on Thursday, the AKP is to get 43.3 percent of the vote, compared with the 40.8 percent it took in the June election. But another forecast, by Gur's A&G Research, puts the AKP on 47.2 percent, securing the absolute majority, Reuters reports.

Change?

Whether a coalition emerges from the vote or whether an AKP-only government will serve its fourth term, it might do little to change Ankara’s handling of the refugee crisis.

“Even if the opposition wins, which is not likely, the request from Turkey wouldn’t be different - financial help to deal with it, take over part of the burden, help solving the Syria crisis,” Kati Piri, the European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur, told EUobserver.

She added that Europe needs to consider Turkey’s broader problems when trying to negotiate for a refugee deal.

“Right now the biggest issue in Turkey is not refugees, it is security,” Piri said, noting that the country is at a dangerous crossroads.

Since the June elections, violent conflict spread throughout the country between government forces and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Suicide bombers targeted a pro-Kurdish peace rally in Ankara earlier this month in Turkey’s deadliest-ever terrorist attack.

Some of Kurdish towns are under curfew, making voting difficult, and in some areas HDP could not campaign out of security fears.

Europe woos Erdogan

In the middle of the election campaign, EU leaders have been busy courting Ankara to help Europe cope with the influx of migrants from the Middle East who cross into Europe via Turkey.

So far this year, more than 500,000 people have entered via neighboring Greece, mostly on dinghies.

“He [Erdogan] was presenting himself as someone who can push Europe around on the refugee issue,” said Piri, who thinks the timing of German shancellor Angela Merkel’s recent visit, in mid-October, was bad, because Erdogan used it to bolster AKP support

The European Commission has also postponed a report assessing Turkey’s progress on EU membership, making sure there’s no EU criticism of his authoritarian style before the elections.

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said recently in the European Parliament, that complaining about Turkey's human rights record does not help with negotiations on migrants.

"We can say that EU and the European institutions have outstanding issues with Turkey on human rights, press freedoms and so on. We can harp on about that, but where is that going to take us in our discussions with Turkey?" he said.

Piri, who has sent a letter to the EU executive aksing it explain the delay, and who so far has gotten no reply, said it is worrying that migration talks are being mixed up with the accession process.

She said this “gives the impression that you are easing up accession conditions in order to find on agreement with Turkey on refugees, and that is a bad thing.”

Europe should instead focus on what Turkey wants, Piri argues.

This include funding to help take care of the over 2 million refugees in Turkey, and speeding up the visa liberalisation process in return for an effective readmission agreement - whereby Ankara accepts migrants who do not qualify for international protection, and who crossed into Europe via Turkey, but are not necessarily Turkish.

Any Turkish government would want a resettlement arrangement, and, Piri argues, it is time to create legal ways for refugees to enter Europe.

“It is also in the interest of Turkey to find a good deal with Europe on how to share this burden,” the Dutch MEP said.

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